Washington’s support group is lesson for success

It was 241 years ago when Gen. George Washington marched his Continental Army into quarters at Valley Forge for the Winter. His band of 12,000 soldiers had just suffered humiliating defeats at the battles of Brandywine Creek, Paoli, and Germantown.

The situation was dire, a true inflection point of the war which could have easily been the end of the colonies struggle for independence and prosperity. What would occur next provides us a lesson still relevant to how we achieve success in our lives today.

Valley Forge was located only 20 miles from British forces, led by Gen. Howe, housed in Philadelphia, Washington chose Valley Forge for it strategic location and abundant clean water and firewood. His army would suffer from dwindling rations, deep snow, diseases that swept through camp, and unsanitary conditions.

Washington struggled with low morale of his troops and leadership team, some even planning a coup to remove Washington of his command. The Continental Congress he reported to was disengaged of the dire situation, also questioning Washington’s leadership abilities.

Washington could have easily relinquished his command. He could have returned home to live with his wife Martha on their beautiful estate of Mt. Vernon, a place of abundant warmth, shelter, food, and supportive surroundings. Instead, he choose to stay with his men and face the dwindling odds of success and survival. But how did he create success from a situation headed toward defeat? Not alone!

Washington assembled an inner support network of three young officers. First, Marquis de Lafayette, a 20-year-old French officer, known for making himself endure the same hardships as his men, earning their respect.

There was 23-year-old John Laurens, who had created his own regiment of freed black soldiers and whose father Henry was the president of the Continental Congress.

Of matching age was Alexander Hamilton, the third officer and instrumental member of this triad in helping protect Washington from attempts to overthrow the general’s leadership.

A fourth supporter arrived in Valley Forge in February of 1778 — Baron Friedrich von Steuben, who Washington immediately appointed as inspector general of the camp. Steuben, a Prussian veteran of the Seven Years War, taught the men combat maneuvers using a system of training drills during the Valley Forge stay. This helped transform the army of volunteers into an army of professionally trained soldiers.

With the support group that Washington created around him he was able to emerge from winter with a more dedicated, well trained, and well led Continental Army. The result, a victory at the Battle of Monmouth in June 1778 and ultimate birth of the United States.

A lesson in how to achieve success can also be learned by all of us as we head into 2019. No matter who were are, it is vital to build a support network around you. Asking for help is not a weakness, but a sign of strength.

It is also a two-way street. You will support others as they will support you. As Washington’s Valley Forge experience illustrates, these collaborative alliances will help not only you, but all in your support network achieve their goals in 2019. Have a prosperous 2019!

Steve Patchin is director of Career Services at Michigan Technological University.

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